An old mankin ran a finger alongside his nose, staring at its crooked reflection off the still surface of a black pond. This misshapen snout happened to be his most notable feature―all dimpled, extended, and swollen as it was―and the mirror image at his knees did nothing but enhance the fact, magnifying his nostrils to twice their actual size. But everything about this little man was deformed, frightfully blemished and puny and warped. And though the pond reflected this truth about his outward appearance, it failed to reveal that his inner character deserved the same description.
The mankin leaned in closer, very nearly dipping the tip of his snout in the water while his beady eyes scrunched to see what lived beneath the pond’s glassy surface. Searching for a raw fish dinner within reach, his eyes began to focus on shadows roaming the darker depths. Just then a gust of wind twirled past, placing a single red leaf upon his reflection. The gentle swells that formed around the leaf distorted the mankin’s already misshapen image, warping traits already grotesquely warped. He growled at his ugliness before turning away. But it wasn’t detest of his own person that made him turn and rise. No, it was his nose. Or rather, what his nose had detected on the breeze.
For you see, this shrewd character possessed a gift inside his sizeable nostrils. He could sniff out just about any trail he longed to follow, being particularly keen on detecting one scent above all others. It wasn’t spicy or sugary or citrus aromas that lured him. Nor was it the ambrosia incense of fame and money. And it certainly wasn’t the sweaty stench of hard work and labor that attracted this measly character. No, it was something potent and ripe with a subtle and unsavory flavor.
The little mankin inclined his head, closed his eyes, lifted his chin, and breathed deeply. A sly grin crept across his face as he identified the cold whiff of utter desperation. As quickly as his bowed legs could swing each hairy foot forward, he hobbled away from the pond in pursuit of a hopeless soul.
Sunset had stained the western sky in fiery colors about the time the mankin approached a one-level farmhouse set close to the edge of a small town. He ignored the well-lit home and scuttled inside a wooden barn large enough to act as landmark for villagers. The structure stood naked, without paint or stain, just a box of raw timber planks nailed together yet artfully assembled to attract the eye. Inside, dusk grew dimmer while space seemed to expand - an odd illusion for confining oneself within four walls - most likely owing to an arched ceiling and an openness uncustomary for regular buildings.
There was no need to follow his nose any longer, for the sound of muted weeping took over as guide, beckoning him forward to a high stack of straw bales along the furthest wall. Circumventing this pile brought all eight of his fuzzy toes smack dab before the balled-up form of a young lady who’d wilted to the ground. She was bent over her knees, sobbing, with cupped hands covering her face. So upset by whatever travailed her, the young woman didn’t notice that she was no longer alone. Not until a gnarled hand patted gently on her shoulder did she jump, startled, scurrying onto her backside to cower against the prickly wall of straw. Her eyes rounded into the shape of coins as she gasped - a miracle that her natural reaction wasn’t a high-pitched scream. Perhaps she would have screamed had the darkness not masked the mankin’s repulsiveness. He didn’t wait for her to think to do so, however.
“Good evening, deary. I couldn’t help being drawn here by such heartrending sounds of sorrow. May I ask, why? Why are you crying so bitterly?”
The young lady’s sad face contorted into an even sadder expression at the knowledge that sympathy might very well be standing over her.
“Oh! I am in a dreadful mess!” she exclaimed. “My father is behaving like a monster! A tyrant! An unfeeling ogre! He’s bent on destroying my life and bashing any hope that I might ever find true happiness!”
“I see. And how is it that he’s treated you so awfully?”
The poor darling wiped at her swollen eyes, unable to keep from sniveling as she explained. “He’s forcing me to marry a man I don’t know, someone I don’t love, all to better his own estate! He won’t listen when I tell him my heart belongs to another, to my true love. My father hates me! He must, because he doesn’t care about my happiness at all!”
The little man rubbed at his stubbly chin. “Hmmm. And when is this wedding to take place?”
A sound of sheer despair squeaked from the girl’s throat before she bawled, “In two weeks!” Once again her hands hid her face as a flow of misery soaked her cheeks. Over the ruckus of her weeping, a possibility of hope was extended.
“I can help you……if you want my help, that is.”
Her hands fell, unveiling two wide, bleary eyes for a second time. “You can?”
The squatty stranger nodded. “Oh yes. And I will agree to do so, if that is what you want.”
“Oh I do, I do!” she exclaimed assuredly. “But how? How will you stop my father? He’s a stubborn man, a tyrant! He won’t listen…”
A hairy hand, knotted at each joint, lifted to halt any concerns. “Don’t worry about how, deary. What you should be asking is….how much?”
“How much?” She repeated the question without understanding. When the little man explained, her face wilted again, not hopeless as before, but nearly.
“Ah, yes, how much is correct. What will you give me to stop your father from forcing your tender heart into a loveless marriage? My generosity must bear a cost or there’d be no value in what you gain from it. There’d be no second thought for me, the tiny, humble mankin who came to save you. Is it right for a desperate soul to expect redemption for nothing? No. No, no. So, tell me, child, what will you give me in exchange for my services?”
The young lady slanted her brows, looking as if she might cry again. “I don’t know. I have nothing to give.”
“Not so,” the tempter disagreed. There was a sparkle in his eyes and a grin that told her he already had a wager in mind.
“What is it that you want?” she asked.
Standing as tall and straight as his decrepit form would allow, he voiced his terms. “I want your wedding ring. The one that your true love will offer when he asks your hand in marriage. This tiny trinket in exchange for preventing your being wed to a stranger.”
She agreed without hesitation, eager to live out the events that the mankin had painted in her head with words.
“I promise I will give you the ring.”
“Then it is done.”
With that verbal agreement he hobbled away, no further sounds of sorrowing at his back.
The next day while standing over his reflection in the black pond as before, the mankin lifted his snout to a mild breeze, catching his most hunted scent. A cold and unsavory whiff of desperation came to him, more potent than the evening prior. Waddling like a wounded duck, he made his way as quickly as possible to the same modest barn, discovering behind the same wall of straw the same girl. She was curled up on the ground, bemoaning her lot with more fierceness than ever. Edging his eight fuzzy toes up to her balled figure, he once again reached down to administer a gentle pat. The young woman flinched but didn’t coil away from the strange little man whom she recognized immediately.
“How could you have done this to me?” she cried, rising to her knees. “My father……my poor, kind, dear papa! He’s dead!”
The mankin raised a bushy brow as if this were news to him. “Is he, now?”
“Yes! He failed to wake up this morning. When I couldn’t rouse him, I ran to the village for help. My true love met me outside his house and ran all the way here with me. Father had turned pale by then, his face and hands as cold as ice. We tried to save him, to warm him, but it was too late. My father is dead!”
The girl dropped her face in her hands to shed a torrent of tears. The ugly little man hunkered down, leaning sideways, his long crooked nose near her profile. He had questions to ask.
“Did your true love have any further words for you?”
The girl nodded.
“Did he say he would take care of you? Marry you?”
Whimpering, she nodded yes.
“And, did he give you a ring?”
The weeping child sucked in a ragged breath, making the most grief-stricken noise.
“Well, did he? A ring? A golden ring?”
Her eyes shot up - swollen, bloodshot, and narrowed - staring at her interrogator with the bitterest detest. “Yes,” she snapped.
The mankin held out an expectant hand, his bony fingers rounded into a skeletal cup. His longest finger wiggled twice, gesturing that she relinquish the prize. With angry haste, the young maiden pulled a ring from her skirt pocket and slapped it onto his waiting palm. There was a gleam in the little man’s eye that twinkled above an irreverent smile.
“You’re a vile monster,” the young woman accused. Her mounting anger somewhat nullified the need to weep. She locked her jaw and glowered, her hot stare most assuredly supported by unforgiving thoughts.
“Am I? Did I not keep my end of the bargain? Are you not free now to marry whomever you choose? I earned my reward, deary. You have what you asked for. Neither of us was cheated.” He slipped the gold ring into a coat pocket and turned his slumped form around as though he would leave. A quiet protest rose over his shoulder.
“I would never have agreed to your help had I known that you meant my father harm.”
Slightly turning back, enough for one beady eye to peer over a shoulder, the mankin responded. “I heard the names you called him. Monster. Ogre. Tyrant. You alleged quite convincingly that he hated you.”
“But….I…I…I was upset! I didn’t mean it!”
An ugly mug screwed up in an attempt to portray remorse. Or perhaps the imp was simply mocking her youthful folly. “Deary, deary. Well, I suppose I could offer my services once again. That is, if you want me to.”
“There’s nothing you can do for me now. My father is dead! What I want is to have him back again, alive and well.”
“Perhaps he is not dead. Perhaps the ogre simply sleeps. Such errors have occurred.”
She regarded her tempter strongly. Doubting. Wondering. Speculating.
He leaned in closer, one eye grotesquely wide as he assured her, “I can give you what you want. Although, if your father is awakened he will no doubt have his say in whom you marry. Is it worth it to you?”
She thought for a second; a brief time before making the only choice she could live with.
“Yes. Yes, of course. Please, bring my father back.”
“How…” the mankin started.
“I don’t care how, just do it!” The girl reached out to take hold of his arm, but immediately recoiled her fingers upon brushing over a rash of warts.
“No, no, you misunderstand, deary. There is the tiny matter of…..how much? As I told you before, my generosity must bear a cost or there’d be no value in what you gain from it. There’d be no second thought for me, the tiny, humble mankin who came to save you. Is it right for a desperate soul to expect redemption for nothing? No. No, no. So, tell me, child, what will you give me in exchange for my services? How much do you truly want your father back?”
“How much?” she repeated, understanding this time that the greedy creature expected pay. “I have nothing to give. I’m penniless, and without a dowry now too.”
“Not so,” said the mankin. There was a sparkle in his eyes and a grin that told her he had a wager in mind.
“What is it that you want this time?”
His bony fingers reached to tap beneath her chin, making the young lady lift her pretty face to him. “I want your beauty.”
“What?” A furrow formed between her eyes, communicating confusion.
“Your beauty, my sweet. You won’t be needing it now that you’re betrothed to your true love. That is if your father allows the union. If not, you’ll still have your father to care for you, hateful tyrant that you claim him to be.”
The maiden spoke up defensively. “He’s not a hateful tyrant! He’s a good man! I was upset when I said….”
“Aaugh!” With a brusque wave the mankin cut her off. “Your beauty or no deal!”
Her fingers rose to feel at the smoothness of her milky-white skin. This pretty face had earned her many approving looks from the opposite sex. But what real value did it possess? And besides, she hardly ever looked in a mirror anyway.
Her head vaguely bobbed in agreement to the bargain. “Okay.”
“Then it is done.”
With that verbal promise he staggered away, a cold quiet at his back.
It was three evenings later that the mankin rested beside a rippling black pond, its surface troubled by a disagreeable wind. His crooked nose sniffed at the air, detecting a riper scent than the raw fish he was feasting upon. Grinning slyly, his bony fingers tossed aside dinner so that he could make haste toward the little village where the same girl lamented. She was huddled in the darkest corner of her father’s barn, completely shadowed by blackness, when the creepy mankin came hobbling up. Her back to him, she still sensed his presence draw near. A bony knuckle tapped against her shoulder, causing the girl to hunker down in the corner even more, hiding her face from view. Crying, she spilled her woes for the wretched little man.
“I’m hideous! A repulsive sight! My true love.…..not so, not so. He won’t have me any longer. And he threatens my father for the worth of the ring I gave to you. He threatens to take us before the judge if I fail to return his gold ring. And my father, he beat me for making a deal with the devil. That is what he believes I’ve done.” The young lady made a sorrowful groan before repeating her father’s words. “Not even a witch or a demon, but only the devil himself could have disfigured a face so grotesquely as mine, to keep any living soul from eying me with the least degree of affection!”
“You’re no more a sore sight than myself,” the mankin said.
The young maiden turned her head, steering her face away from the dark corner. The move was slow and hesitant, but motivated by a desire to clearly see her wish-crafter’s features for the first time. Her forehead, now thickly browed, pulled tight over a pair of swollen eyes set close together on each side of a large, crooked nose. She turned herself completely around, surprised by a couple of things: Firstly, that the little man didn’t so much as flinch at the sight of her. And secondly, observing more clearly than previously his lopsided features, that looking at him was very much like seeing into a mirror.
His beady eyes scrunched, contemplating. “You want help. You wish for your ring to be returned.”
“I wish for my beauty returned,” she corrected in a tone that made it adamantly clear.
“But the ring will pacify your lost love.”
“My beauty will win him back!”
The old character shook his head. “No, it will not. Not now that he’s witnessed your worst face. The man you call your true love has proven he doesn’t love you at all.”
“And how could he?” she cried. “No one could love a face like this!”
The mankin cringed the slightest bit as if personally stung by her declaration.
“Father says I’m to be locked away for the remainder of my days, hidden from the eyes of all who can see. He blames me for the curse that’s ruined my pretty face.”
“Then your father has called off the prearranged wedding?”
“How could he not?” she exclaimed. “No one, especially a stranger of means and reputation, would agree to have me this way!”
The mankin gestured to the contrary. “There are those few who look within.”
The maiden made a disgusted sound and dropped her head. A bony finger extended to tap beneath her whiskered chin, and she lifted her lashes, looking up.
“I can help you…..if you want my help that is.”
She nearly growled at the sly bargainer. “And what will you take from me this time? My soul?”
He didn’t answer the question, instead extending an enticing offer.
“I will return both the ring and your beauty. At which time your father will hastily wed you off to the stranger whom you lamented so fiercely against marrying mere days ago. This man, your husband, will treat you like a queen, showering you with gifts, love, and attention. You will have all that your heart desires, including three sons born to you for nurture and care. They will grow in stature to be strong, industrious, virtuous young men. All of this is my offer to you.”
She screwed up her unsightly face; Disbelieving. Skeptical. “How?”
“No, not how,” he corrected once again. “The question is, how much? You know, for I have told you already, that my generosity must bear a cost or there’d be no value in what you gain from it. There’d be no second thought for me, the tiny, humble mankin who came to save you. Is it right for a desperate soul to expect redemption for nothing? No. No, no. So, tell me, child, what will you give me in exchange for my rare services?”
The young woman sunk, letting her head hang hopelessly. Mumbling, she asked his price. “How much?”
“I offer a handsome gift, I do,” he reiterated. “The ring, your beauty, and twenty years of marital bliss! All of it without intrusion from me.” A gnarly finger rose, very nearly brushing the side of his nose as he carefully laid out his terms. “On the twentieth anniversary of your wedding, when your boys have grown independent and strong, I will come. You will leave your family on that day to be my bride, and for the rest of your years you shall abide with me.”
She looked up suddenly, mouth gaping. “You want me to wed you?”
The little man raised a humped shoulder. “It’s your choice. Remain as you are now and be locked away forever. Or………let me restore you to your former self and your former plight.”
Her former plight.
The words hit hard. From where she sat now, regretting that she’d ever met the creepy, old, dimple-nosed mankin, her original state of affairs seemed enviable by comparison.
An impatient, throaty noise sounded before the little man swiveled on his thick pads and hobbled towards the open barn door. A quiet female voice wafted past his ear.
“I’ll do it.”
The bargainer paused long enough to smirk over his shoulder. “Then it is done.”
Twenty years elapsed with events transpiring exactly as promised. More beautiful than ever, the young maiden was married off to the suitor of her father’s choosing. The man proved to be a kind, gentle husband who loved and spoiled his wife excessively. She was showered with gifts and true devotion, every year receiving as much affection as in their newly-wed years. Owning a large and successful farm, the happy couple never wanted for anything. Three boys were born to them early on. And, as boys go, they were an energetic and cheerful lot; a great help in the home and on the farm. Taught by their father’s example, the boys learned to treat their mother kindly and to shower her with gestures of love and affection. With heartfelt joy and gratefulness she returned their precious hugs and kisses.
For the most part, the years transpired with only fleeting thoughts of an ugly, little creature who’d crossed her path in youth, three times in one week. He never appeared, except for in the shadows of her dreams. And then, upon waking, the woman did her best to shove his image aside, dismissing it as a convincing nightmare. But on the eve of the couple’s twentieth wedding anniversary, a raspy voice spoke to her quite clearly in a vision.
“Tomorrow I will come for you. Do not forget your promise, deary. It is time to pay for the services rendered.”
She woke up in a sweat, heart palpitating, terrified that what she’d convinced herself to be a nightmare was indeed a memory from the past. It proved so when the mankin snuck up on her, all alone in a big red barn built by her husband and three boys. She backed herself against a wall of straw bales, eyes transfixed on the wish-crafter who’d not changed a bit since their first meeting.
“No, no, no, no,” she shook her head rapidly, denying his existence and the truth of their agreement.
The mankin wrinkled his large, crooked nose. “You would go back on your word and refuse me that which is rightfully mine?”
“No, but…but, my family….my husband….they won’t understand.”
“That is not my concern. We had a deal, and I have kept my part. Now it is time for you to keep yours.” His bony hand reached out, waiting for her to take hold.
She stared at his fingers, paralyzed.
“Please. Please, let us make another deal, one in which I can stay here.”
The mankin grumbled objectionably. “No. It would profit me nothing.”
With clasped hands she begged him. “But I don’t want to go! My husband, my boys, I love them! Please, please, let me stay! I’ll give you anything else, my ring….my beauty….money….the farm…”
A growl of annoyance shut her up. “No! You are my bride now, and I will not let you out of my sight forevermore.”
He grabbed hold of her wrist, and she fell to the ground, sobbing. Though the mankin tugged, managing to drag the woman a few inches across a spread of straw, she would not cooperate nor stop her wailing. The crying became so violent in nature that hyperpnea and dry stomach heaves were the result. This effected the old mankin, who finally proposed a new deal - the thinnest ray of hope.
“Alright! Alright! I’ll make you another offer. Just stop this carrying on!”
Her tear-stained face appeared from behind trembling fingers. “You will?”
“Yes. But if you fail to live up to this bargain, I will take all three of your boys as punishment for your crime.”
The mother swallowed hard, willing to do anything to protect her sons. But if there was a chance the she and her family could remain together….
“What is your offer?”
A wily grin crept across the mankin’s face. “I will release you from being my bride, completely and wholly, without future obligations to me. And, I will leave your family be, never, ever to show myself again.”
He stood there with that devious grin, waiting. It was an offer too appealing to be without a nasty catch.
“How much?” she asked.
“Not much. All I ask is a name.”
“You want my name?” She was ready to agree until he quickly jumped in with a clarification.
“No, no. Not your name. My name.”
Her forehead tightened, confused. “But you already own your name.” It occurred to her just then that she’d never learned it. “What is your name?”
The mankin stretched his wicked smile to its limit. “I’ll give you three days, three guesses per day.”
“If you guess my name correctly, if you whisper it to me, our deal will be sealed. If not………well, then you have no promise.”
Suddenly the air seemed heavy and hard to breath. “But, how can I possibly….”
Brusquely he waved off any further complaints. “That is not my concern! You either come with me now, or give me my name in exchange for your freedom! Which will it be?”
She took the only option that would buy her time. “I will guess at your name. Tomorrow.”
The mankin grumbled at putting off the first day, but agreed. “Then it is done.”
Once his hobbling figure disappeared on the horizon, the worried wife and mother ran to the house to tell all to her husband and boys. It was agreed that they would do everything within their power to discover the creepy, little demon’s name. That entire night and following day was spent scribbling out possible names for a character so old and heinous. The men, father and sons, went searching the woods for any sign of the mankin, but to no avail. That night the woman met her wish-crafter in the red barn.
“Have you three guesses at my name?”
A nod told her to proceed.
She swallowed hard. “Is your name, Rasputin?”
“Is it, Damien?”
She drew in a quavering breath and let it out. “Could it possibly be, Beelzebub?”
“No!” the little man snapped. “I will return tomorrow for three more guesses.”
“But it’s impossible!” she cried. “There are too many possibilities!”
Hunched and staggering away, he offered a hint. “My name has never hit your ears because it is mine, and mine only. Don’t bother me with a borrowed name, deary.”
This information only served to make matters worse, and for the entire night and next day the tired woman scribbled out made-up names, praying that a combination would miraculously strike her as the right one. Meanwhile, her husband and sons did their best to follow the creepy mankin into the woods. But somehow he was able to disappear within the foliage.
That night the woman met her wish-crafter in the barn for a second three guesses at his name.
“Is your name Rumpleruney?”
He shook his head no.
The mankin smirked. “No.”
She hesitated with a third guess.
“Have you no more ludicrous names for me, deary?”
“They’re not ludicrous,” she said defensively.
The little man made a chortling sound in his throat. “They’re rubbish! Not real names at all!”
“But…..but, you said your name was original. Unheard of.”
“It is,” he assured her with a nod. “But it isn’t a random string of nonsense!”
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly,” the little man winked. “What does it mean?”
She was stumped and confused.
“So, do you have a third guess or not?” He shuffled slowly sideways as if he would turn to leave.
“Um….y..yes.” Thinking hard, she created a name in her head from parts of words with meaning. “Is it, um……Grim~lumpy….uh….rotten~bottom? Yes, is it Grimlumpyrotbottom?”
She laughed for a moment before the emotion turned to tears. The mankin walked off into the darkness, grumbling. Her husband and boys would no doubt do their best to follow his sneaky shadow into the woods again, but at what hope of actually keeping on his trail? And if they did happen to trace his path by some miracle, what were the chances his name would be uttered, audibly and recognizably?
Giving in to exhaustion and despair, the woman curled up in a bed of straw and cried herself to sleep.
The next morning she was awakened early with squeals of laughter and delight.
“Mother! Mother! Good news, Mother! Open your eyes! Open your ears and hear!”
Scooting up into a sitting position, she lifted her eyelids to the sight of her three grown boys and loving husband encircling her with the widest smiles painted on their faces. The young men were nearly bubbling with enthusiasm, eager to tell all.
“Father followed that creepy, little bugger into the woods last night. He watched through the window of a mud hut built right into the side of a cavern. And he listened at the door, Mother. You’ll never guess what Father heard!”
Her wide eyes darted straight to her husband. “His name? You learned his name?”
Unable to keep the truth a secret, he gestured for his boys to join him in singing the rhyme that he’d overheard the mankin chant by firelight.
“Tomorrow I wed, today I sing,
And then my bride away I’ll bring;
For little deems that pretty dame
That Dimpellumpzki is my name!”
Shedding tears of relief, the woman hugged her men, and then went to the house to wait for sunset and the return of the crooked-nosed Dimpellumpzki.
That night the woman met her wish-crafter in the barn for the final three guesses at his name.
“Are you ready, deary?”
She clasped her hands and nodded assuredly.
“And if you fail to give me my name, are you prepared to keep your promise and come with me?”
Again the woman nodded. Quickly she asked him the same question. “If I do whisper your name correctly, are you prepared to keep your promise and leave me and my family be?”
The little man twitched his nose. “If you guess it correctly…..yes.” Then he gestured for her to voice her first guess.
“Okay. Is your name……….Dimpellnose?”
The little man flinched, startled a bit. So close to his actual name. Lucky guess. A stab at his most notable feature, no doubt. “No. No, that is not my name.”
“Alright then. Is it……um………Lumpyskin?”
The makin’s eyes flashed wide for a moment. Another lucky guess? Was that a stab at his wart-festered skin? “No, no, no, that is not my name! One more guess. Hurry up! Hurry up!”
“Okay, okay. Is your name……..oh, um…could it be…” She released a tremulous exhale, then whispered, “Dimpellumpzki?”
Furious, the little man ranted and raved and stomped his big feet, kicking up a cloud of dust and straw. Then he hobbled off howling at the moon, never to be seen by the woman, her husband, or three sons ever again.
To say that this blessed family lived happily ever after would be an understatement. For, knowing what their lives might have been - what they’d managed to narrowly escape - the relationships preserved became priceless.
In the deepest corner of a cold, dark, cavernous house an unhappy mankin brooded over the fact that his name was no longer a mystery. He dreaded the likelihood that this knowledge would be gossiped and spread, destroying the secrecy of his title, Dimpellumpzki. The name might become a commonly uttered joke; laughed at among villagers near and far.
“This cannot be,” he grumbled. “This will not do!”
And so the surly character decided to change his name. Throughout the night he thought and pondered and made up unusual anonyms until he settled on the finest of them all; a tricky utterance; a name that no one would ever stumble upon a guess……not ever!
Rumpelstilzkin. How very mysterious a name, indeed!
Be not wishing and pining but thankfully content.
For it is a short bridge between wanting and regret.
~ Richelle E. Goodrich
Copyright 2012 Richelle E. Goodrich
Copyright 2012 Richelle E. Goodrich